The Weed That Saved Minnesota W CHS Board Member Rev. Charles Espe brought in a photograph print entitled, “A Scene in Our Ginseng Garden at Otisco”. The caption reads, “United States Department of Agriculture gives average production of ginseng as a trifle over one ton per acre. The average price since 1900 is $8.85 per pound. Anyone interested in the growing of this valuable crop may have the benefit of our 36 years of experience for the asking.” In an article from a 1967 Minnesota History magazine, author William E. Lass tells the story of the “Ginseng Rush in Minnesota”. In the late 1850s a shaky economy drew many prospectors westward in search of gold. A handful of Waseca prospectors foraged through the maple-basswood forests of southern Minnesota in search of a different treasure—“manroot” or “sang”. The ginseng boom was brief, but lucrative. The cash crop paid well at a time in history when the economy was recovering from the first Depression in America. Ginseng is highly prized by the Chinese. It was smoked, brewed and made into a tonic. It was used as an opiate, an intoxicant, a stimulant, and even as an aphrodisiac. “Sang” is what the colonial pioneers called ginseng. American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is found in deciduous forests from eastern Canada west to Minnesota, down to Missouri and south to the mountainous regions of Kentucky, Georgia and the Carolinas. Ginseng thrived in the Big Woods of southern Minnesota. Root buyers from the east started showing up in the region after newspapers made mention of the new cash commodity. In 1859 a ginseng drying station was established at Lake Washington in Le Sueur County. As news spread, hundreds of men were digging ginseng across the river from St. Peter. Buyers surfaced in Wright County, Meeker County and Blue Earth County. Growing ginseng in WasecaCounty can be traced back to the late 1800s. The Janesville Argus had this mention in the June 10, 1879 edition of the paper: A number of our young men and some older ones too, have, during the past two or three weeks, found remunerative employment in digging ginseng. We understand it is more abundant this year than for several years heretofore, and all who 4 Ginseng. Photo by Welby Smith, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources engage in the business are making better wages than working at anything else. The ginseng is sold to Isaak Marks of Mankato, who deals exclusively in the root, paying twenty five cents per pound for green and seventy-five for dried. Some fifty years later, an article entitled, “Five Acres of Ginseng Being Planted Here, Company Formed at Otisco to carry Project in Jacoby Woods; Some Planted Here Last Year” appeared in the Waseca Journal, August 15, 1934. A company has been formed at Otisco for the carrying out of a ginseng project that may mean a great deal to the agricultural income of WasecaCounty. The Otisco Company has leased five acres of timber land owned by Otto Jacoby, west of Otisco, and are preparing the ground now for the planting of ginseng seed the first week in September. Otto Jacoby is president; Emer Hanson, secretarytreasurer; and A.O. Gilbertson of St. Ansgar, Iowa, vice president and manager. Last year a few WasecaCounty farmers seeded ginseng. Eric Hoeltz has a half acre tract and Alfred Schultz, his renter, has a like amount on the farm west of Otisco. William Hoeltz, residing southwest of Otisco, put in two acres last fall and plans to put in another two acres this year. Mr. Gilbertson, who has an interest with each farmer, says that the soil of this locality is especially adapted to the production of ginseng because of its acidity. He says that the production will run about a ton to the acre and the present price range is between $6 and $9 a pound. With help from Linda Taylor our researcher, we were able to track down members of the Hoeltz family.
Sisters Avis (Hoeltz) Rugroden and Arlene (Hoeltz) Wacholz are the nieces of William Hoeltz who owned the Otisco Gensing Gardens. The sisters both spent time weeding the plots at some time in their youth. With their help we were able to locate Calvin Hoeltz, son of William. The William Hoeltz plot was actually in section 36, Wilton Township. Brother Jacob’s plot was just east of the Township line in section 30, Otisco Township. Nestled in the woods near the Little Le Sueur River the first seeds were sown in 1933. Plots were approximately five feet wide and very long. Paths on both sides made it possible to reach half of the bed for weeding. The native or wild ginseng was preferred as it was more potent than the cultivated variety. It would be seven years The Panic of 1857 The swift rise of the boom towns was a hopeful but brief time in American history. It was a period of opportunity and prosperity. Many towns sprang up along the frontier. Founders worked hard and prospered. Land values began inflating. Railroad stock values were speculative. Banks made risky loans to business with little or no capitol. Enthusiasm overshadowed risk and when the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed due to fraudulent activities by management, the true state of the economy was realized. The failure threatened the failure of other Ohio banks or even worse, a run on the banks. Luckily, the banks connected to Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company were reimbursed and “avoided suspending convertibility by credibly coinsuring one another against runs. The failure of Ohio Life brought attention to the financial state of the railroad industry and land markets, thereby causing the financial panic to become a more public issue. to harvest. A second crop of Goldenseal was planted as well. The ginseng seed was collected and dried in sand. The roots were harvested and washed in the river then dried. Three pounds of root when dry would diminish down to one pound. The ginseng was stored in barrels and shipped to New York. Over harvesting of ginseng and loss of habitat has diminished the number of plants found in the wild. Although a license is not needed to harvest ginseng on private land there are state regulations for harvesters, buyers and seed distribution in the State of Minnesota. Ginseng may not be harvested in any Minnesota State Park or other area under the administration of the state’s Division of Parks and Recreation. Harvest is allowed in state owned Wildlife Management Areas with a permit from the state wildlife manager. END Creative Genealogy A professional genealogist was approached by a very wealthy, proud family to do a family genealogy, complete with stories of all members of the family. No expense was to be spared in research, and the final result was to be bound into a book. The genealogist was pleased with the generous contract, and set to work. One distinguished ancestor after another emerged: persons of power, prestige, influence, and wealth. How pleased he was! This was wonderful book material! Then he stumbled upon a relative out of character with the rest. Henry Jones had embarked on a career of crime. He had robbed banks and committed murder. He was caught, convicted, and sentenced to death in the electric chair . The genealogist became anxious and fearful. What if the family refused to pay for his research, and cancelled the whole project Would they pay for a fancy book that led to the black sheep of the family At last, he sat down to write the history of Henry Jones . . . “Henry Jones was well known in the state where he resided. At the peak of his career, he held the chair of applied electricity in one of the leading institutions in the state, and died in the harness.” Submitted by visiting genealogist Judeen Johnson, Volga, S.D. 5